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Republicans 'dig in' after big win

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Meet the new "Woodbury Three."

Ted Lillie, Andrea Kieffer and Kathy Lohmer are headed to the Minnesota Legislature after knocking off three local Democratic lawmakers. They were part of the statewide GOP legislative landslide that helped Republicans to regain control of the Minnesota House and to take the Senate majority that was long held by Democrats. They will take office as freshmen members of the majority party.

All three found success advocating on the campaign trail for smaller government and fewer business taxes and regulations, and said they must focus on that when they take office.

"There's going to be all eyes watching and making sure that we hold true to what we campaigned on and we stay focused," Kieffer said, "and I don't have any problems doing that. I haven't made any public promises or anything in writing that I don't stand for."

Lillie, who beat Sen. Kathy Saltzman of Woodbury, said Republicans now have an opportunity to "really work on getting done what people want to get done."

"My conversation that I was hearing from folks was they want a limited government, a government that lives within its means," said Lillie, of Lake Elmo. "We need to find a way to implement that, and we do have a tremendous challenge ahead of us."

"We just need to be able to get down to the Capitol and dig in."

People wanted 'change'

That work officially starts in January, when the new Legislature is sworn in, but preparations started not long after the Nov. 2 election results rolled in, delighting Republicans and stunning Democrats.

Lillie's victory over Saltzman came by the narrowest margin of the three local races. He finished with 51.49 percent to her 48.43 percent. He received 19,850 votes to Saltzman's 18,668, a 1,182-vote difference, according to unofficial election returns.

The largest margin of victory belonged to Kieffer, who beat Rep. Marsha Swails 53.1 percent to 46.7 percent in the House District 56B race. Election returns showed Kieffer received 10,778 votes, Swails 9,494 votes. Both are Woodbury residents.

Kieffer will represent most of Woodbury and Landfall in the Minnesota House. She said voters sent a clear message that work on education issues "is not enough," a reference to an area Swails focused on.

"We need to get families working again in Minnesota, we need to get our economy turned around," she said. Kieffer said she is interested in serving on committees that deal with education and with business growth.

Lohmer beat Bunn by about 49.7 percent to 44.8 percent, according to the unofficial election results. Independent candidate Jim Martin had 5.5 percent of the vote. The vote totals were: Lohmer, 9,166; Bunn, 8,259; and Martin, 1,018.

House 56A includes part of Woodbury, Lake Elmo and St. Croix Valley communities.

Lohmer said Republicans' message of limited government appealed to voters this year.

"I think that people are living the experience of big government and high taxes, and it's not working for them," said Lohmer, who wasted little time starting her 2010 campaign after losing to Bunn in 2008. "The reality is people are hurting and they want to see change in government."

There was a similarly shocking change in local legislative representation four years ago.

Democrats reflect

Dubbed the "Woodbury Three," Saltzman, Swails and Bunn all were first elected in 2006, when Democrats took control of the Minnesota House and padded their Senate majority. Bunn and Swails were re-elected in 2008. Saltzman had a four-year term.

Political fortunes reversed last week.

Assessing the election, Saltzman said she does not believe voters kicked her out because of her legislative record.

"I don't think that this election was a vote against the things I had worked on or a lack of accomplishments at the Capitol," she said. "Many people said work I did at the Capitol reflected work that takes some people eight or 12 years to accomplish."

However, Saltzman said, voters clearly were concerned about the economy and jobs, and they wanted a change.

"While they were voting against something, I'm not sure they were necessarily then voting for somebody," she said.

Also, Saltzman said, incumbent Democratic legislators may have suffered defeat because voters saw pre-election polls showing DFLer Mark Dayton leading in the governor's race.

"I think that people were concerned that a (Democrat-controlled) Legislature would be a rubber stamp for some of the policies that he campaigned on," she said.

Saltzman said she is "not planning" to make another run for the Legislature in 2012. She coyly added: "But, you know, it all depends on the (political) landscape."

In the meantime, Saltzman said she wants to spend more time working on the Yellow Ribbon Network of Washington County, a volunteer organization that helps the families military soldiers. She also is interested in working with area Chambers of Commerce on business growth.

Swails was reflective after the vote results showed she had lost by about six points, after winning by nearly 10 points two years ago. She had hoped to return to the Capitol to continue work on education issues and efforts to streamline government services.

"Thank you for your unwavering belief in me," she wrote on Twitter. "The past four years were filled with such joy as I served in the Minnesota House. To the future!"

Bunn, who like Lohmer is from Lake Elmo, had spent the past four years focusing on health care and public health issues at the Capitol.

"I am honored to have served as state representative these past four years, and am proud of the work I accomplished on behalf of the people of my district and of Minnesota," she said.

Bunn said she was proud of her campaigns and looks forward to "continuing to contribute to my community and moving our state forward in other ways."